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Tobe set as Brown economic director Will supervise development efforts

Richard M. Tobe, as a member of the state control board overseeing Buffalo's finances, has been a critic of those running the city's Permit and Inspections Department.

Now, he's going to supervise the department.

And Mayor-elect Byron W. Brown wants Tobe to do even more.

Tobe will be the point man for the Brown administration's economic development efforts as head of the Department of Economic Development, Permits and Inspections.

The appointments of Tobe and several others were to be announced today by Brown.

Tobe declined to comment, but others praised his appointment.

"I think this may be one of the most positive signs in a long time about getting the nuts-and-bolts development process in the city to where everyone wants it to be," Buffalo Niagara Partnership President Andrew J. Rudnick said of Tobe's appointment.

Tobe served as former Erie County Executive Dennis T. Gorski's commissioner of environment and planning.

Brown is tapping another onetime Gorski administration official for a high profile position.

Steven M. Casey, an aide to the state senator and his mayoral campaign manager, will become Brown's deputy mayor for operations. A deputy mayor for administration has yet to be named.

Casey will focus on intergovernmental relations, lobbying and job appointments, and act as a liaison to the Common Council.

Brown will also retain several Masiello administration officials, including:

Timothy E. Wanamaker, the city's $94,335-a-year strategic planning director;

James B. Milroy, who is expected to earn $83,000 as finance commissioner;

Joseph N. Giambra as public works commissioner, earning $81,484 annually;

Bruna M. Michaux, who will remain the $74,405-a-year commissioner of assessment and taxation.

Michael A. Seaman, who currently serves a dual role as the $73,209 budget director and treasurer, is expected to oversee the treasury and collections functions.

Tobe will lead a revamped department, which will include permits and inspection services.

Tobe's new position must be created, and city lawmakers will get their first glance at Brown's restructuring proposal at a special meeting today. Until the Common Council passes the legislation needed to create the new post, Tobe will serve as permits and inspections commissioner.

"He's got management experience from the county. He's a no-nonsense guy. And if the mayor backs him up, I think he's going to do a good job," said retired lawyer George R. Grasser, president of Partners for a Livable Western New York, a planning advocacy group.

For six years, Grasser and others reviewed the city's permit process and recommended changes. But tensions rose between the group and current inspections commissioner Raymond K. McGurn.

Above all, the incoming mayor has to support whoever takes McGurn's job, Grasser said.

"I think he can accomplish accountability, for one thing," Grasser said. "There wasn't a whole lot of accountability under the present administration."

The new administration should insist on equal treatment for developers, Grasser said.

"We haven't had that," Grasser said. "We've had some people getting special privileges from McGurn and the mayor. People starting jobs without permits. Not enforcing rules because of who they are. Tobe can bring a level playing field where everyone is treated equally."

Buffalo Niagara Partnership officials eventually stopped working with McGurn on reforming the permitting process, although the department did adopt some of what the group was pushing for.

"We think Rich can make a difference," Rudnick said. "Our volunteers and staff over the past five or six years have come to believe the problem is not the people in the department but the leadership in the department and the leadership over the department."

Rudnick also praised those Brown has decided to retain, including Giambra.

"Joe's very competent," Rudnick said. "This goes back to the general theme that a lot of what needs to happen is the collaboration and integration of development-related departments, and Public Works is a part of that."

Rudnick also said "we're very positive about Wannamaker staying."

"Tim is very competent and brings strong skills," he said.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com and bmeyer@buffnews.com

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